What will people think?
What will you do next?
You couldn’t possibly give up. Could you?
No, you must push on. Only the weak, only losers would give up now. But not you. You are not a failure!
You must project an image of success. You wouldn’t dare let your friends, family and colleagues question whether you “got it together”.
But it’s getting harder to ignore the feelings of self-doubt.
Deep inside you know that little voice is on to something.
But you choose to ignore it. You stare at your reflection in the mirror and think, “I can do this!”
But can you?
And more importantly, should you?
You see, our culture likes to promote an image of perfection: chiseled bodies, always smiling faces, the happy family around the dinner table.
The Apples and Amazons of the world preach the ideal of a relentless, strong work ethic that pushes harder, longer to achieve great things.
Rockstar entrepreneurs like Elon Musk, Mark Cuban, and Richard Branson are glorified for not only their success, but the perseverance and determination that got them to the top.
And let’s face it. The idea of “giving up” is frowned upon in our inner circles. If you’re not rallying yourself with the the words “You can do it”, your best buddy, big brother, or Mom probably are.
In fact, you could even say the following…
We’re Constantly Encouraged to Stay Positive and Persevere
And it makes sense, right?
I mean, why not focus on the good? Why not be positive?
The logic for doing so is simple: when you always focus on good things, there’s no room in your mind for negativity.
Well, your life is supposed to magically become awesome.
But is that really what happens?
What If Endless Positivity Isn’t Such a Good Thing After All?
First off, there’s nothing wrong with gratefulness and positivity in and of themselves. Both are key themes in my irreverent book A Dude’s Guide to the Couch.
As an American who lives in a developing country (Thailand), every day I see how lucky I am. My education, ability to speak English, and “I’m in control of my life” American mindset, have set me up for a good life.
Gratefulness keeps me humble and appreciative of my blessings.
Positivity also benefits me, helping me stay focused on things I can do to improve my life.
But let’s be clear about something.
These traits aren’t used to avoid reality. Which is where the problem arises.
When positivity and gratefulness are allowed to flourish unchecked, denial and resentment creep up.
Instead of improving your life, these positive attributes sweep negative emotions under the rug. Unpleasant feelings—like anger, frustration and failure—aren’t dealt with, but masked with a smile.
This is the real danger of excessive positivity: problems aren’t acknowledged.
The Dire Consequences of Ignoring Problems
Living in Thailand, I’ve seen the consequences of this phenomenon firsthand. Take the country’s sex industry, for example.
Because the industry isn’t publicly recognized and often goes unspoken about by Thais, it remains free to flourish unregulated. And its existence has led to a laundry list of societal issues, from being a top 5 country for child prostitution, to being a human trafficking hotbed, to having the highest rate of infidelity in the world along with the highest rates of amputated penises.
If the industry was acknowledged, made legal and not constantly swept aside, the problem could be dealt with instead of denied.
When it comes to personal issues, what problems are you refusing to recognize? What is slowly eating away at you? Festering underneath the surface of your conscious attention?
Maybe your career is headed in the wrong direction and you’re afraid admitting it means you’ll disappoint your parents. Maybe there’s a lingering feud between you and an old friend that’s caused you to become secretly distrustful in relationships.
If you put on a smile and do nothing, what happens? Will you waste your life in a career you hate? Will you become bitter, never form intimate relationships, and ultimately lose an old friend?
Whatever the issue, acknowledging it will be painful because doing so suddenly flings open the door to failure.
What If Giving Up Is the Best Thing You Can Do?
It sounds like a lie.
How could “giving up” possibly be good?
How could losing the “always positive” outlook, admitting failure, and looking at the harsh reality of your mistakes be beneficial?
Well, it’s quite simple.
Problems are a part of life. The president deals with problems, the Dalai Lama has had problems, and even Walt Disney’s “charmed” life was rife with problems.
How can problems be resolved without acknowledging them? Without admitting them?
And the scary thing about giving up, is that when you do it, you acknowledge something far more painful than the problem. You acknowledge that you don’t know how it will be fixed—or if it will even be fixed at all.
And that is downright frightening.
Even for myself, who has given up dozens of times, I’m petrified every time I say to myself, “I don’t know what to do…I give up.”
Giving up means relinquishing control.
It means acknowledging the big, ugly issue. Admitting you don’t know the answer, and letting the pieces fall where they may.
Instead of hiding the pain behind a false smile, gratefulness or a relentlessly positive outlook, you look it dead in the eye.
And it hurts.
But there is a bright spot…
The Surprising Thing That Happens When You Just Give Up
When you stop trying to fix a problem, when you acknowledge the underlying emotional pain, when you just give up and let things be, your situation gets worse. At least at first…
The bandaid is ripped off.
And suddenly the pain rises to the surface.
Like you just removed the blockage from a smoking chimney.
All the toxic gases are expelled, your vision becomes cloudy, and you start to cough as you choke on carcinogenic emotional fumes.
But now with the blockage removed, the cloud hanging over you starts to vanish—dissolving into the atmosphere. Your stress melts away, your mind clears, and the feelings of negativity are suddenly replaced with perspective.
When this happens, often times the answer you were looking for appears almost magically.
But wait a second.
“Why does the answer I was searching for matter anymore? I gave up, right?”
Giving Up Doesn’t Have to Mean You Give Up Forever
The thing is, “giving up” doesn’t necessarily mean you stop moving towards your goal. Yes, you do literally give up on it, admit you don’t know the answer, and that this could be the end. There’s a chance you’ll never chase that goal again.
However, most times I give up, I return to the goal. Why?
Because usually I see the supposed problem was not as daunting as it seemed. Once the negative emotions and stress surrounding the issue disappear, I can see my situation pragmatically. And suddenly the resolution looks a whole lot simpler.
Giving up is really an emotional thing.
When you’re trying to stay positive and fight through an issue, negative emotions of fear, doubt, and frustration are boiling under the surface.
Giving up clears the air of these emotions.
And when your mind isn’t clouded by them, suddenly you can see the next step clearly.
Usually the easiest thing to do is to take it.
Giving Up Leads to Freedom
Giving up is incredibly scary.
You tremble, look uncertainty in the eye, and let vulnerability consume you.
You feel helpless.
Like you just missed the bus for the most important meeting in your life.
Left alone in a cloud of dust laced with feelings of anger, self-doubt and hopelessness, you squint your eyes and watch as it drives away.
You have a choice now.
Will you put on a mask of false positivity and chase the bus, secretly panicking inside as you try to block out the exhaust fumes of foul emotions?
Or will you let those harsh feelings of pain sink in?
Will you stop, look fear in the eye and wait for the dust to settle when the air finally clears and you can see your situation clearly?
Suddenly you have the freedom to choose.
The negativity has evaporated, and you see your options.
The bus was not the only path to the promised land. You look around and see there are taxis, the subway, and even a helicopter ready to take you to your destination.
No longer burdened by overwhelming feelings of failure, you have options.
Which one will you choose?